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Freeze Kentucky Universities' Tuition, State Lawmaker Says

Kentucky state universities have endured regular budget cuts for years, and they've offset the losses in part with tuition increases.

A Republican state senator wants to stop the latter.

State Sen. Dan Seum, a Louisville Republican, is proposing a freeze on state universities’ tuition rates. He said state universities have increased their tuition at a rate that outstrips cuts to higher education.

“We cut their budget by $165 million, they increased it on the backs of these kids to the tune of $582 million,” Seum said. “I think the universities have seen these kids as nothing more than a cash cow.”

According to a 2015 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kentucky has cut higher education spending per-student at the highest rate in the U.S.

At the same time, tuition has increased at Kentucky's public universities at a clip higher than 45 other states' higher education systems.

Tuition increases must be approved by the state's Council on Postsecondary Education. Last year, the board approved a 3 percent hike for the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville. Both schools were granted a 5 percent tuition increase the previous year.

Tuition is only allowed to increase by 8 percent every two years.

“I think it borders on criminal what the universities are doing to these kids,” Seum said.

Seum criticized public universities for spending lavishly on new buildings and projects, calling it “castle building.”

The University of Louisville has made massive investments in new buildings, real estate holdings and other infrastructure over the past decade. U of L spokesman John Karman said Seum made "several inaccurate statements" during the press conference announcing the tuition freeze bill.

In a statement, Karman said the school understands “the financial burden that tuition can impose on students and their families.”

“We look forward to working with Sen. Seum and the General Assembly as we continue to work with students every day to help them achieve their goal of a college education,” Karman said in a statement.

University of Kentucky spokesman Jay Blanton said more than half of UK students graduate without debt.

“Ensuring that the commonwealth’s families can afford and have access to the University of Kentucky is one of our top priorities,” Blanton said in a statement. “To that end, we welcome the discussion about how we can all work together to make college even more affordable and accessible.”

Seum, who is the Republican caucus chair in the Senate, said the bill will likely be heard in committee — the first step to passing the chamber.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the bill's chances in his chamber aren't as sunny. Stumbo said amid budget cuts, state universities must be able to raise revenues through tuition.

"I know nobody wants to see tuitions increased. By the same token, unfortunately, if you’re going to have massive budget cuts like we’ve had to have, really, education’s the only place you can get that much money, as Gov. Beshear found out," he said.

In-state tuition at the University of Kentucky is currently $5,390 per semester, $5,271 at the University of Louisville, $4,741 at Western Kentucky University, and $4,075 at Eastern Kentucky University.

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